Editor’s note: This is one of a series of stories of Biddeford’s mill past, told by former mill workers and sponsored by the Biddeford Mills Museum.

On Oct. 4, 2012, James Marcotte recorded a short video for the Biddeford Mills Museum. Sitting in front of a photo of the Saco Falls, Marcotte introduced himself and shared some of the history of WestPoint Pepperell from 1973 through 2004.

Marcotte grew up in Derry, New Hampshire, and when he finished school, he went to work at the nearby Malden Mills in Methuen, Massachusetts, which was a flocking factory. Flocking is a method of electronically applying short strands of material to a base layer to create a fur-like fabric. The fabric was used to make clothing as well as toy animals.

While working at Malden Mills, Marcotte took night classes to finish his degree, and in 1973 applied for work at WestPoint Pepperell in Biddeford. The company was a good company, making good products, and offering excellent benefits at a pay of $12,000 a year — at the end of his career 31 years later as manager of the Purchasing Department he was earning about $55,000.

He was not aware at the time that the Biddeford mill was developing a new product called Vellux. His background in flock was a perfect fit for the new line. He moved his family, by then including four children, to Maine.

Initially, Marcotte trained in several departments throughout the mill so he could learn about the company before taking on new responsibilities.

The Biddeford mill was one of 23 mills owned by WestPoint and the only one in the north. WestPoint, Georgia, was a real mill town, where many of the homes in 1973 were still company owned.

Marcotte recalled his first ride in an airplane was with Francis Spencer, when they flew to Georgia, and where he met Winn Hagborg, a chemist in the WestPoint research department. Over time, they would work on several projects together.

Spencer felt it was necessary for Biddeford to have tighter control over the materials and process of the Vellux line, so he wanted to establish their own flock-cutting department. Jim Marcotte became foreman of that department.

Because the headquarters and most of the production of WestPoint were in the south, the company wanted to start a second Vellux plant in Greenville, Alabama. They built a new mill and filled the buildings with the latest modern equipment.

Although the Biddeford staff assumed that eventually the new Alabama mill would replace the Biddeford mill, they nonetheless trained the southern crew in the production process. Biddeford continued to focus on quality product, while the new southern plant started to seek ways to apply shortcuts, trying to speed production, and ultimately failed. Biddeford’s many years of experience kept Vellux production in Biddeford.

Marcotte credits the Biddeford mill’s success to a team who worked well together, each giving 100 percent or more to the work. Biddeford’s WestPoint Pepperell was the sole producer of the made-in-America Vellux blanket, keeping the mill operating and profitable for 40 years.

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